Just saw Gephardt deliver a foreign policy address at the Council on Foreign Relations. He took valuable time out of his Iowa campaigning to be here, and I’m not sure why. There was nothing memorable about the speech. It got almost no reaction from the audience, except two titters at what might have been intended as laugh lines. Gephardt embraced the standard critique of Bush foreign policy as recklessly unilateral, needlessly alienating the world. Such attacks – John Kerry in particular made a very similar case at the Council a month or so ago – aren’t really honest if they ignore the rather sweeping vision of democratization Bush has laid out. This is a big deal, and Democrats should tell us whether they support it or not and why. Instead, Gephardt never mentioned it. His speech was mostly a collection of small scale initiatives, from more funding for the Millennium Challenge Account and the global AIDS initiative, to supporting micro-credit programs, to expanding the Peace Corps, to more funding for USAID, and on and on. The one interesting idea was Gephardt’s call for a multi-nation Democracy Caucus to encourage the U.N. and other international organizations to support democratic values.
In a hilariously backhanded formulation, Gephardt stood by his support for the Iraq war resolution and said, “I’m not sorry that Saddam Hussein has gone.” What a ringing statement of principle! Gephardt criticized the administration, of course, for bungling the effort to build an international coalition in Iraq. But he didn’t grapple at all with the nature of the French opposition to our Iraq plans. Failing to do so makes any critique of the Bush pre-war international effort pretty unserious. Asked in the question-and-answer session how he would have done it differently, Gephardt said only that he would have tried to get inspectors back into Iraq sooner and not rushed the process at the U.N. so much. Kerry has said similar things. But if France wasn’t going to go along in any case, more time wouldn’t have helped much.
Altogether it was an undistinguished performance from a leader of a Party that apparently wants this year to be determinedly undistinguished on foreign policy.